If you find yourself often having angry thoughts or phantasies, or having outbursts like shouting at people, or engaging in aggressive behaviour (for example wanting to destroy objects or to fight someone), you might be experiencing what we call “anger issues”.
Engaging in action when you are in an angry state can give immediate satisfaction, but usually causes long-lasting problems at work with colleagues and bosses, and also in personal life with partners, friends and family.
Anger issues, if not addressed, can lead to job loss, end of relationships and even physical harm.
Anger issues do not come from anger itself, but from what we do with the anger we feel.
They arise from our inability to deal with angry feelings in a constructive way. Marshal Rosenberg, the founder of Nonviolent Communication, describes anger “a tragic expression of unmet needs” (Quote from this page).
This article will give you a description of the most common patterns people experience when they are having anger issues.
You can take my anger issue test here or keep on reading for a complete description of symptoms, signs and management of the various types of anger issues.
Whether you want to deal with your anger issues by yourself or with the help of a trained professiona, these are the steps I invite you to follow:
Recognise the symptoms and signs
Identify what is triggering your anger
Find ways to channel the angry energy in a constructive way towards the right target
Let’s go through these steps in order
Recognise the symptoms associated with anger issues
Symptoms of having anger issues are physical, emotional, cognitive (thoughts) and behavioural
Physical symptoms of anger issues
You might feel tension in your muscles, especially arms, legs and back/neck.
Your heart rate is fast, and you might be clenching your jaws.
The body feels energised and ready to jump into action
Emotional symptoms of anger issues
The emotional symptoms are many, and because our culture teaches us that anger is unwanted emotion, we might be quite unfamiliar with it.
Many anger issues stem from the fact that we do not recognise the early emotional signs of anger.
If you believe that you have anger issues, watch out for emotions in the following list because each one of these leads to anger
The emotions above go in order of intensity. Disliking something is not as strong as being irritated by something, while, when we are annoyed at someone or frustrated, we are likely to get angry.
If you carry a lot of dislike, irritation, annoyance and frustration, you are very likely to get angry at something that looks small on the surface.
These emotions build up and add up together in our body and mind, and each of them requires that you do something to take care of it. If you do nothing about any of them, they will lead you to get extremely angry without knowing why.
Example: Henry dislikes getting up early he gets irritated when his neighbours are loud in the morning. Today he woke early because of his neighbours, and he is also annoyed at his partner who keeps on leaving mess around the house.
Henry usually does not pay attention to these things. He tells himself they are not important and that there is no need to address any of them.
On that same day he goes to work and, as soon as he gets there, his boss emails him with a list of things gone bad on a project he worked on a lot. He gets frustrated at his colleague who had not done enough to support the project. This colleague arrives to work and starts making jokes. Henry cannot hold all these emotions inside and explodes… here is what he might do
A) Shout at the colleague
B) Smash his phone on the floor and storm out
C) Start slapping himself
D) Leave the office and call sick for the day
E) Ignore the colleague and send an angry email to his boss
Any of these scenarios show inability to recognise the build-up of anger. The “trigger” to Henry’s anger is, apparently, the joke by his colleague (I describe later in the article how to see the difference between trigger and cause of anger).
None of the small things that frustrate Henry leads to anger issues by itself, but, if we take them together, they do. It is important to be aware of all shades of angry feelings.
Tip: if you are not aware of the build-up to anger or rage, it is useful to train your attention to spot “low level” angry emotions and do something about them. Try the following
1- Think of the last 24 hours and make a list of
a. What you disliked
b. What you got irritated by
c. What you got frustrated at
2- Now rate each of the items on your list with a number from 1 to 5. Give 1 to what is bothering you the least, and 5 for the things that bother you the most
3- Only continue if you have given any low scores like 1 or 2. For 3 of higher, it is best to speak to a professional
4- Take the items you gave a score of 1 or 2 and, for each of them, ask yourself what you can safely do to address them.
5- Act on these actions and repeat this exercise to see if your list is reduced
Cognitive symptoms (thoughts) of anger issues
CBT research has done amazing job in understanding what thoughts we have when we have mental health issues.
Anger issues affect the way we think. Knowing what you are thinking when you are angry is crucial to finding strategies to change that angry behaviour.
Imagine that, when you are angry, you see the world through a special pair of glasses that focus exactly on the things that make you angry and ignore the rest. I call this “cognitive bias”, and it happens every time we have strong emotions. Here is what your thoughts might look like when it comes to anger
Tunnel view and intrusive thoughts
You only think of the situations that make you angry, and all the rest loses importance.
You spend almost all your time going over what makes you angry, or these thoughts come to you (intrusive) and do not leave you even if you would like to focus on something else.
Tip: Take a moment to think of the last couple of hours of your day and ask yourself:
“How long have I spent thinking about what is making me angry?”
Try not to overthink this, go with the first answer the comes to your mind.
If you have spent more than half your time thinking about things that make you angry, you are likely to be in the middle of tunnel vision. You are not really in control of your thoughts.
We cannot get angry unless we make a judgement about someone or a situation that we think is unfair, outrageous, stupid, etc. We get angry when we believe that someone is wrong, while we are 100% sure we are right.
It is important that you get to know what judgements you have if you want to manage your anger issues. Judgements fall into one of these three categories (which I have taken from an amazing book by Kathryn Schulz)
“People are stupid.” The person/situation who is making you angry is just not capable of thinking like you do (which you assume is the correct way) because they are stupid;
“People are ignorant.” The person/situation who is making you angry does not have the same knowledge that you have, otherwise they would see how wrong they are;
The person/situation is not stupid and not ignorant, but they are making you angry on purpose for some evil intention.
Tip: ask yourself
“what is my judgement about the person/situation who is making me angry?”.
Again, try not to overthink it, and see if your judgement falls into one to the three types above.
Having these judgements running in our head maintain your angry responses and, the stronger they are, the more it is difficult to deal with anger issues.
If you become familiar with how you judge others, you can take action. For example, you can start double checking what evidence you have got to think that people are stupid, ignorant or evil.
If you manage to weaken your judgements, you are likely to be less angry.
Behavioural symptoms of anger issues
These are probably the easiest ones to spot.
They range from being short-tempered (i.e. losing patience very easily), to snapping at people, shouting or wanting to become physically aggressive.
It is not anger itself, but the way you behave that makes anger and issue. Unfortunately shouting at people, getting into arguments, raising your voice or your fists rarely solves the problem that made you angry. When you act in one of these ways about your anger, you will get one of these two outcomes
Either you or the other person will have to feel “defeated” and back off, but will want to get revenge at some point
You and the other person will end the relationship and will probably take anger out on something or someone else
Now that you are familiar with what happens to you when you are angry, it is time to look at how you can manage your anger constructively.
Anger issues management
Managing anger issues is possible, and the first, crucial step is the ability to recognise the trigger of your anger as well as the cause of your anger.
Identify what is triggering your anger and what is causing it
Yes, I am saying that what triggers your anger is not, ultimately, the cause of it.
A trigger is something that happens outside of you. For example, you go home after a day of work, and you find it messy, when you had left the house in order. The mess is the trigger.
Now, you might appreciate that everybody has got different tolerance to mess, and this is because each of us have got different needs. Needs are, ultimately, the cause of our anger.
You will get angry at a messy house only if you have a strong need for order and harmony. The existence of this need in you makes you angry, while the mess is simply triggering your awareness of this unmet need.
Once one or more of our needs is not met, we get angry and we can do something about it.
Find ways to channel the angry energy in a constructive way towards the right target
Now that you know that the trigger is the mess and the cause of your anger is your unmet need for order and harmony, you can choose what to do to dissipate your anger.
Here are two options that could lead to some relief to your anger
1) Order the house without saying anything to who created the mess
2) Order the house and talk to who left the mess
The first option (order without talking), allows you to address the trigger (and your anger might go down), but you are keeping whoever made the mess in the dark about your need for order and harmony.
You will probably retain some anger towards who made the mess, and you will think that the responsible is either stupid, ignorant, or evil (see section above about judgement). If the mess appears again and again, you will probably get anger issues.
With the second option (order and talking), you are more likely to dissipate the majority of your anger and also prevent more anger in the future. It is not easy though!
Talking to someone else about the cause and the trigger of our anger is difficult.
We are not used to saying, “The mess I found in the house has triggered my anger because I have a need for order and harmony in the space I live”. Yet, letting people know about your human needs (which they also have), opens up the best way to conflict resolution.
I am talking about empathy and mutual understanding.
If the person who left the mess is able to listen to your words and understand your need, they might spontaneously pay more attention to the mess they leave. They might make more of an effort or even apologise for the mess they left.
Be mindful that talking about your needs does not guarantee that the other person will be willing to help you with that. All you can do is say what is going on with you and make a request for more care in the house. People are ultimately free to do what they want.
Nonviolent Communication has developed tools and techniques to speak about needs, develop empathy and resolve conflicts. There are free videos available of YouTube, or you can buy books if you prefer reading about it.
To summarise all we have said about anger issues
We are coming to an end to this description of anger issues.
By now you should have a better idea of that happens to you when you are angry, and also what you can do to identify triggers and causes.
As a psychotherapist, I insist that there is full awareness of triggers and unmet needs before taking any action.
At times triggers and situations are much more complex than what I have described here, and the help of a third party with proper training might be crucial to resolving the anger issues.
I hope you enjoyed the reading. Please feel free to share this article and my only request is that you also share this web-page or my name.
 You can watch her TED talk here https://www.ted.com/talks/kathryn_schulz_on_being_wrong